A Defense Heavy Draft

With the injury to Ryan Shazier during the Bengals game on December 4th, there was a hole left in the defense. With Shazier gone, no linebacker could fill the void of Shazier’s speed, quickness, and toughness. Their run game declined towards the end of the season and dismantled in the playoff game against the Jaguars. Although Shazier did claim to want to make a return to football, it was reported he would not be coming back in the 2018 season, so that leaves us the question. How do the Steelers fill the void at linebacker?

The Steeler’s Franchise is notorious for building through the draft, that’s where they find their future stars. So who can we expect the Steelers to be watching?

Keep an eye out for Rashaan Evans, a linebacker from Alabama. Although he is expected to go early in the first round, he could fit what Pittsburgh needs at linebacker. He has the speed to blow up plays in the backfield along with great explosiveness and the ability to tackle well, something the Steelers need. In 2017, he started 12 games, tying for the team lead with 74 tackles, leading the team with 13 tackles for loss, had a total of six sacks, and broke up three passes.

Another linebacker to watch out for is Roquan Smith, from Georgia. He played outside linebacker and racked up 85 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. He plays with discipline, has tremendous football knowledge and instincts. Smith also knows how to fill the leadership role, along with great speed, that allows him to match and cover the best running backs. Smith is expected to go early in the first round but may fall to the second round of the draft.

Leighton Vander Esch is another linebacker getting the attention of the Steelers. Although he only has one year of starting experience,he totaled 141 tackles, 8.5 for loss, four sacks, four pass breakups, and four forced fumbles. Esch is long and athletic and possesses the ability to change direction quickly.  He is able to go sideline to sideline and make the tackle. Also does well in coverage and shows instincts on blitzing and being able to rush.

Aside from linebacker needs, that’s not only problem the Steelers need to address. The Steelers could use some help at safety, with reports that Mike Mitchell might be let go in the offseason. Aside from the play of Mike Mitchell the Steelers secondary gave up 13 plays of 40-plus yards, 24 plays of 30-plus yards and 30 plays of at least 25 yards in the last 12 games of the season. So who are some possible safeties in the draft that can help?

Ronnie Harrison was the starting safety for Alabama. He tied the team lead with 74 tackles, making 4.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage including 2.5 sacks, had 3 interceptions, and had 4 passes deflected. He has quick speed and very few limited athletic limitations. Transitions quickly and is able to read the QB’s eyes, also providing quality coverage in match ups.

Derwin James from Florida State is another notable safety to add to the list. In 2017 he had a total of 84 tackles, 1 sack, 2 interceptions and 11 passes defended. A leader on and off the field, is able to be but anywhere on the field and make a play. Has all the physical attributes you would want in a safety. Is able to cut off routes and anticipate the ball well, will not stray off coverage.

Minkah Fitzpatrick is a safety from Alabama, and is expected to be a first round pick and for many good reasons. In 2016 when Fitzpatrick was moved to safety he had a total of 66 tackles, 6 interceptions, two of those interceptions returned for a touchdown, and 7 passes defended. Fitzpatrick can be placed anywhere on the field, as he has experience in multiple positions. Can play very well in zone, and can blitz off the edge. Plays with a tremendous amount of intensity.

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